If you have been following the first few weeks of the 2012 MLB baseball season, you’ve heard ad nauseam about the slow start from the Angels and Red Sox, Matt Kemp’s torrid start, picking right up from where he left off last year (.460, 18 runs, 9 homeruns, 22 RBIs) and Phillip Humber’s perfect game for the White Sox last Saturday.
While those storylines are certainly worth the media attention, the most compelling, somewhat under-the-radar storyline comes out of our nation’s capitol, where the Washington Nationals are off to a 12-4 start (second best record in MLB).
As discussed in my MLB Preview, the Washington Nationals were a team to watch after finishing a very respectable 80-81 in 2011 inspite of a host of injuries. While the season is only a few weeks old, the Nationals are demonstrating they are for real and have Nats fans as excited as they’ve ever been about their team.
So how exactly are the Nationals out to such a fast start to lead the National League East Division? Simple – by way of a young, stellar pitching staff.
The Nationals, led by ace Stephen Strasburg, have the lowest team earned run average (ERA) in baseball at 2.34, while opposing hitters are hitting a measly .202 against them. Additionally, they rank in the top five in strikeouts (144) and have only rendered 39 runs, second only to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And boy, has their starting pitching been sensational. Strasburg is 2-0 (1.08 ERA), Jordan Zimmerman is 0-1 (1.29 ERA), Gio Gonzalez is 1-0 (2.04 ERA), Edwin Jackson is 1-1 (4.26 ERA) and Ross Detwiller is 2-0 (0.56 ERA). To give you a better sense of how impressive they have been, the starters have pitched roughly 98 innings of a possible 144 innings, which means that these guys are going deep into games giving their team a legitimate chance to win. The statistics support this too.
All you have to do is look at the games they’ve won so far — a lot of low-scoring 2-1, 3-2 games. The Nationals rank 21st in total offense, with a team batting average of .243 and have scored only 58 runs that puts them in the bottom five for total runs scored. But when you have superb pitching, as the 2010 San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres proved, you don’t need to score a lot of runs to be successful.
Certainly, they’re going to need help from their offense at some point, because it’s unrealistic to expect their pitching to keep up this pace. The good news is I believe the offense will slowly come around. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is off to an incredibly slow start and the Nationals have been without cleanup hitter Michael Morse who has started the season on the disabled list with strain to his lat muscle. Remember, Morse had a breakout season last year for the Nationals hitting .303, with 31 homeruns and nearly 100 runs batted in. Morse is expected back as early as late May, so the hits and runs will eventually come.
In the interim, it will be fun to watch this young core of pitchers perform. What they’re doing is what teams and general managers dream of, while delighting fans and people like myself that love to watch great pitching. Whether they can continue to play at such a high-level in the NL East is anyone’s guess, but who cares right? Nobody expected them to play this well so early, so as far as I’m concerned, they’re playing on house money right now. Greater expectations will come later for this team. Now is the time to just sick back and enjoy the ride.
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